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Satisficing: The Subtle Cancer of Surveys

Satisficing: The Subtle Cancer of Surveys

Let’s face it: nobody wakes up in the morning and says ‘I hope I get to take a survey today!’

Why? Because we usually don’t get immediate returns on our time investment. The researcher collects the data and reviews findings. Sometimes they’re never published, and usually never shared directly with each survey respondent. What’s more, we are bombarded with requests for our opinion all the time. We’re asked to take surveys on the back of the receipt at the grocery store, on airplanes, after an online banking session—just about everywhere. With so many requests and so little satisfaction yielded by each experience, why bother?

Indeed, this phenomenon is well-documented and has a name. It’s called satisficing. You need to understand satisficing so you know how to avoid it in your own surveys. So let’s first describe its opposite, desired, behavior—optimizing. When optimizing, survey respondents fully engage in four steps:

  1. interpreting the question
  2. searching memory for relevant information
  3. integrating information into summary judgment, and
  4. reporting judgment

Whenever a person engages in steps 2 or 3 half-heartedly, they’re called weak satisficers. Skipping either steps 2 or 3 is a feature of strong satisficers.

So far I’ve painted a picture that might suggest we find out which of our respondents are “good” or “bad” and act accordingly. However, that approach would be unfair and ineffective. Why? Because researchers can easily turn perfectly willing optimizers into satisficers simply by designing bad questionnaires.

Consider that a cliffhanger. Next time we’ll find out exactly how researchers compromise their data by creating bad questions and inducing satisficing behavior. And best of all, you’ll learn how you can avoid those bad questions.

Same methodology channel, same methodology time…

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  • Thanks for the post, Phil. Your observation is a commonly overlooked thought process when creating survey question sets. Too often companies ask individuals to relay information the company already has OR dilutes the effectiveness of a survey by asking for nice to know vs. need to know data.

  • carol richmond

    How do you get responses back to the survey takers privately. Blogs are too public for personal information?

  • joseph s. means jr.

    I’ve made zoom points and tried to spend them and never recieved.what I paid for. I would like to know is this all virtual money and prizes?

  • Julyssa-Rose

    Brilliant, good sir. Not only have you found a way to speak critically and intelligently about an oft overlooked topic, but you also managed to say absolutely nothing about what it is or how to solve it. Your lack of information has been a great deal of help to me, especially considering you do the exact same thing “next time”. Many thanks.

    • Hanna J

      Hi Julyssa-Rose – Survey satisficers is something we’re very passionate about around here, and we’ve written a bunch on the topic. For more information on how to think about satisficing (including how to stop it), check out this post. Thank you!

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